Surviving Italy

Climatic Rock, by Anduela Keku

The two tracks on Anduela Keku’s new EP Climatic Rock take listeners through a seemingly barren wasteland, a space defined by monotony, with nothing to focus on but the road ahead.

Centro Storico, Genova.

It’s a tour-de-force of minimalism.

Clocking in at over fifteen minutes long, both “Sexy Cowboy From Indica Woods” and “Entering the Sbermuz Station” take a long time to get anywhere at all. 

But as these songs build, towards a plateau rather than a peak, it starts to become apparent that the perception of sameness was an illusion. 

This is repetition with a difference.

As anyone who has paid close attention to deserts can tell you, they are filled with subtle variety. The mind just has to push beyond its prejudices to recognize the details that were there all along. 

By making music that feels like that kind of landscape, Anduela Keku encourage us to listen with similar intensity.

The pithy liner notes make it abundantly clear that the band has a soft spot for the particular mode of mindfulness inspired by hallucinogenic substances, whether marijuana, magic mushrooms or LSD. 

That also inspires their self-conscious allusions to the American Southwest, one of the historically privileged places to “trip”, since the absence of distractions makes it easier to immerse oneself in the experience.

But why is a trio from Genova – Edoardo (drums), Andrea (guitar and synthesiser), and Danilo (bass) – making this kind of music, the sort that demands patience? 

Most people skid through streaming services like they’re on roller skates, rarely listening to anything for very long. And the likelihood of someone making it all the way to the end of a fifteen-minute song is slim.

To be sure, there are counter-currents in contemporary popular music – at least the sort that isn’t all that popular – that are compatible with Anduela Keku’s approach. 

The “long tail” dispersal of the music-listening public has made it possible for micro-genres to flourish away from the spotlight. 

That explains the surprising revival of early-1970s prog rock aesthetics, which Climatic Rock borrows heavily from, as well as a resurgence of interest in the pre-digital studio techniques of Lee “Scratch” Perry and other Jamaican producers, who found a way to be self-reflexive about the culture of the copy on a sonic level. 

The explosion of interest in film soundtracks as aesthetic experiences in their own right is also the result of this market fragmentation since even a small audience is sufficient to sustain the production of limited-edition vinyl reissues, provided that its members are willing to pay enough.

But Climatic Rock communicates more narrow-spectrum interests as well. 

The graphics for Anduela Keku’s two records feature the same flawed reproduction image over and over, one which clearly differs sharply from its source material. 

And the video they made for “Sexy Cowboy From Indica Woods” reinforces this sense that copies can take on a life of their own since it collages together decontextualized shots from Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy in order to transport us to a place where casual violence is the norm, but the reasons for it impossible to explain.

In light of these visual supplements, Climatic Rock‘s repetitiveness seems like more than a way of sustaining a good groove. 

After all, in a culture where sorting information takes up vastly more time and energy than it once did, it is remarkably useful to be able to distinguish copies from originals and those copies from the second, third, and fourth-generation copies to follow

And so is concentrating long enough to perform that work. Anduela Keku secure our patience by turning provocation inside out. 

The effect of the band’s music is simultaneously hypnotic and menacing. We know we are surrendering control yet are powerless to resist. That’s why the absence of much musical “foreground” is so effective. They leave room for listeners to be part of the mix. 

How does the record’s title factor in? Maybe the point is that unless we start taking climate change seriously, we’re going to end up in a world as dry and harsh as the desert landscapes in those films. Or maybe it just sounded cool.

More rewarding is to ponder Anduela Keku’s relationship with history. Invoking a cinematic world that was wildly popular in the 1960s suggests that they aren’t just interested in the bare facts of the wasteland but the ways in which our perception of it has been aesthetically mediated. 

This is where the Italian band’s preference for repetition with a difference makes a powerful impact. In a culture where almost everything is a copy of something else, demonstrating how far removed a copy can be from an original has significant cognitive value.

Anduela Keku’s American Southwest is many steps removed from the reality of its late-nineteenth-century setting.

The mental picture we get is faded to the point of confusion, like the primitive, high-contrast images of their video, which have the look of acid-drenched nostalgia.  We know we are being transported back to this fantastic realm, but not why. The narrative thread has been lost. But trying to find it again feels futile.

Instead, we need to develop new modes of perception so that we can find meaning in what initially seems to be a wasteland. 

The fact that Anduela Keku are the product of a tight-knit DIY community in Genova is significant. While Italy has been trending poorly for decades, it has taken an especially perilous turn in recent years, reminding some of the tumultuous late 1960s and 1970s, when the nation’s postwar economic boom gave way to frustration and despair.

By invoking that time, Climatic Rock implicitly acknowledges the parallels between the crisis back then and the crisis now. Celebrating “tripping” doesn’t mean turning away from the problems of today. It might actually be the best way of perceiving solutions.

Photograph courtesy of Jennifer Crakow. All rights reserved.